The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their specialized research to the public. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question:
Saving Animals From Climate Change
How can we plan a nature reserve when that habitat may not be there in a few years’ time? Animals often escape rising temperatures of climate change by fleeing to cooler zones. But how do we know where these new refuges are going to be?
Tropical forests are among the most species-rich, yet most threatened areas on Earth – essential refuges for unique species found nowhere else. These forests are already being decimated by logging and cleared for farming. If we do not prepare for climate change, they may be lost altogether.
In these forests, many species move uphill, where temperatures are lower. When creating a protected area, we thus need to locate it further up than where our target species lives now. But where exactly? How much further up?
My co-authors and I developed a toolkit which allows anyone to work this out. Our method allows to map the most important refuges for a species, depending on the intensity of climate change. With our toolkit, we determined that a threatened parrot of the Andes will move about 250 m uphill into a largely deforested area. We can now proactively implement conservation measures there, restore the forests and protect them, to ensure the parrot will still find habitat in the future.
The greatest advantage of our toolkit is that it can be adapted to many species and locations. We expect that installing these ‘forests of tomorrow’ will become a key asset in preserving biodiversity for future generations.
This summary is in reference to:
A Framework for Prioritizing Areas for Conservation in Tropical Montane Cloud Forests
Écoscience, 25(1):97-108. 2018.
Claudia Hermes, Gernot Segelbacher, and H. Martin Schaefer.
Dr. Claudia Hermes
Dr. Claudia Hermes is a biologist with a focus on biodiversity and conservation. During her studies at the universities of Freiburg, Germany, and Thessaloniki, Greece, she developed an interest in animal ecology and evolution, conservation biology and climate change. She became particularly intrigued by the question how animals cope with the impacts and pressures that global change exerts on them. After graduating, Claudia decided to pursue this interest in a PhD project, which she carried out at the University of Freiburg in collaboration with Fundación Jocotoco in Ecuador.
In her research, she developed a scientific basis for an ecological corridor for endangered birds in the cloud forest of southwestern Ecuador. After completing her PhD, Claudia started a postdoc project on identifying hotspots for conservation in Ecuador. She then joined the Red List Team at BirdLife International in Cambridge, U.K., where she works on assessing the extinction risk of bird species worldwide.
What drew you to your current research field?
While studying biology, I focused on ecology and evolution because I was fascinated by the overwhelming beauty and diversity of animals. Soon however, I became aware that studying animals does not prevent them from going extinct. I realized that I wanted to make my research applicable, by translating my scientific results into targeted recommendations for species conservation.
Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?
Many people had an impact on my career: great conservationists who inspired me to love and protect nature, professors and mentors at university who encouraged me to pursue a career in conservation biology, my parents who always supported me, and field assistants who did an amazing job in helping me carry out my project.
I was also highly influenced by reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Since Carson was also born near Pittsburgh I think it’s some kind of local “requirement” to read or be aware of the book, but it is a prime example of how much influence the message of one individual can have, arguably resulting in the first environmental movement.
What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?
Many tropical species are shifting their distribution ranges as a consequence of climate change. We need to proactively account for that in order to protect their habitat in the long term, and to increase the survival chances of these irreplaceable species.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?
Studying wild animals in remote locations can be unpredictable and challenging sometimes, so always be persistent, creative and flexible. But above all, enjoy it every single day!